Over the course of the past five seasons, no driver in short track racing may have felt as much pressure to succeed as Hudson, New Hampshire’s Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. That weight he carried on his shoulders wasn’t always put on him by others. Instead, he put the pressure on himself as he chased after his first career American-Canadian Tour championship.
An ACT championship was something the now 25-year-old racer had wanted for years. He could win big races. He could win smaller races. He could win at practically any race track he showed up at. But he couldn’t put together the consistency to win a championship.
The lack of a championship continued to eat away at Polewarczyk and his team as the years flew by. He finished third in points during the 2012 season, 16 points behind eventual champion Wayne Heliwell, Jr. He followed that up in 2013 by finishing second in points, 15 points behind Helliwell.
Practically every time you talked to Polewarczyk, the word “champion” would come up in the conversation. He wanted to be not only a winner, but also a champion.
In 2014, the driver known as “Joey Pole” finally put all of the pieces together and turned in one of the most consistent seasons on the American-Canadian Tour in recent history. In nine races, he scored two wins, three runner-up finishes and didn’t finish worse than fourth in any race. That consistency led to Polewarczyk mathematically securing the championship after eight races and officially clinching his first ACT title at Airborne Park Speedway (NY) in September.
With a championship now in hand, Polewarczyk is in a position he’s never been in as he gears up for the 2015 season opener at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) on Saturday, April 18.
“It’s weird. Every season we’ve always had the pressure to win a championship,” Polewarczyk told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Obviously you always want to win a championship, but now that we’ve finally got that off of our shoulders it’s a completely different feeling going into this year.”
Despite the lack of a championship, Polewarczyk has been considered one of the strongest racers in the Northeast since he picked up his first ACT win at Seekonk Speedway (MA) in 2007. His resume includes wins in some of the biggest Late Model events in the region including the Oxford 250, The Milk Bowl, ACT Invitational and ACT International.
Because of his success in these prestigious events, the pressure to win a championship continued to increase over the years. Some people, Polewarczyk included, began to wonder why he was able to win races but not a championship.
“Ever since my first couple of years in ACT there was a lot of pressure put on us that we were going to be a championship team and this and that,” Polewarczyk said. “A lot was expected from us right away. We did well, but we were always just missing that championship. As the years went on we came close but couldn’t pull it off.”
With the monkey off of his back and an ACT championship in his back pocket, Polewarczyk has no plans to slow down now. He’s witnessed Helliwell and eight-time ACT champion Brian Hoar defend their championships, so his goal now is to follow suit.
“I definitely want to try to get the championship again this year and try to defend it,” Polewarczyk stated. “Wayne did in the past and Brian has done it so it’d be really cool, and I think we can go out there and defend it. We had an unbelievable year last year with consistency and I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that again.”
Previously, while chasing his first championship, Polewarczyk went into every race beginning with the season opener hoping for a good finish. While he still wants to be able to record consistent finishes, he’d like to focus more on getting back to winning races and hoping the cards fall into place to compete for another title.
“You don’t ever go to the race track and say I don’t care today, but now we can focus more so on wins,” the 2014 ACT champion said. “There were some times last year where I felt like we had a car that could have won but we didn’t put ourselves in a position to hurt our night. We just stayed solid. I feel like now that is off of our shoulders that we can go win some more races.”
The good news for Polewarczyk is that he’ll have more chances to score checkered flags than he did one year ago. After a nine-race campaign in 2014, the 2015 American-Canadian Tour campaign features 13 points-counting events. The schedule also includes new tracks such as Autodrome Chaudiere (QC), Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) and Oxford Plains Speedway (ME), a track that Polewarczyk has experienced plenty of success at.
“I definitely think that it’s going to change things up a little bit,” Pole said of the enhanced 13-race schedule. “It was nine races last year and we have more races this year with Chaudière on there and Oxford. We’ve had luck at Oxford so that’s a good place for us. Then you have Thompson at the end of the year where not a lot of guys have gone. I think it will probably tighten things up a bit because not everyone has been to all of these tracks so it should make things more interesting.”
The additional tracks and races won’t be the only factors that tighten up the 2015 ACT championship hunt. Helliwell, a two-time champion, will seek a third title this season after running a part-time schedule one year ago. A number of drivers including Ray Parent, Jimmy Hebert and Travis Stearns have also made improvement to their programs and could be threats to challenge for a title this season.
Add in the occasional appearances from Hoar and Eddie MacDonald, the hottest driver in ACT Late Model competition, and Polewarczyk knows just how hard winning races and defending his title may be.
“I know firsthand how tough it can be,” he said. “It’s so hard because all it takes is just one bad race and you’re looking at second or third place in points because whoever ends up winning the championship doesn’t normally have a bad race. You’ll have a bad race now and then but if you look at the history the past five years you’ll see the champion hasn’t had a bad race. You have to be mistake free to win the championship and it can come down to five different teams.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com